Anytime you travel to Miami to play the Hurricanes and you don’t allow them to celebrate with the turnover chain, you are doing something right. Michigan State not only did that, but they more than doubled their season total of takeaways, with four. The Spartans, a team that didn’t have a running back rush for a touchdown in 2020, now has one with nearly 500 yards in three games. Head Coach Mel Tucker helped his players will themselves to a 3-point halftime lead, which allowed him to make some crucial adjustments. Payton Thorne, a quarterback who had to win the starter position this summer, has thrown 4 TD passes in consecutive games. Add that all up and you get a Spartans football team that is 3-0. Not to mention poised to have a number in front of their name come Monday afternoon.
In what is shaping up to be a great day of college football, Michigan State and Miami provided the best contest in the early-afternoon window. The Jay Johnson led offense exploded for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The defense controlled by Scottie Hazelton came up with multiple third down stops and forced the Hurricanes to abandon the run. Even the punter Bryce Baringer, who had an average of 55 yards on 5 punts, is deserving of a shoutout. Mel Tucker and his team have given themselves a lot to hang their hats on.
Is Kenneth Walker lll A Dark Horse Heisman Candidate?
Early on in this game, Miami made it apparent that they were going to try and pressure QB Payton Thorne. That pressure was indeed felt, which didn’t allow for MSU to get in much of a rhythm offensively. To combat that teams usually throw quicker passes and lean on the running game a little more. Let’s just say Kenneth Walker lll was leaned on a lot. His 6.4 yards per carry steadied drive after drive. Michigan State football is fun to watch when they have a bell-cow at the running back position. With a 172 hard fought yards on a whopping 27 carries today, Walker lll could soon be putting himself in the Le’Veon Bell and Jeremy Langford comparison.
The junior back has now put himself on the radar for best in the Big Ten conference. Of course it is too early to be labeling him a potential Heisman candidate, but there is no denying how special he has been. On a day Blake Corum posted a hat trick in Ann Arbor against lackluster competition, Walker lll turned some big gains in clutch situations. He showed how versatile he could be once again, this time against a premier opponent. Broken tackles, fierce cutbacks, and winning foot-races were all on display. The running game is firing on all cylinders just in time for another conference matchup next weekend.
Why Run The Clock Out When You Can Keep Scoring?
Michigan State didn’t score on their first offensive play of the game so that must mean they struggled right? Wrong! Over 450 yards from scrimmage and a decent 7-of-15 on 3rd down conversions are a couple stats that prove otherwise. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson continued to call smart plays and was able to get the ball to the majority of his weapons. Connor Heyward showed great ability to run after the catch from his newly acquired H-back role. Jayden Reed found the end zone once again on a beautiful, threading-the-needle throw from Thorne in the 4th quarter to put MSU up 24-14. It wasn’t all tough throws for Payton Thorne however, as he lofted a 39-yard TD pass to Jalen Nailor on the very next drive. The score would be the second of two for Nailor and the dagger shot for the Spartans.
Instead of electing to try and milk the clock with heavy doses of Kenneth Walker lll, Michigan State kept the pedal to the metal in the second half. Passive play is not going to win you many games, especially on the road against Miami. The MSU coaching staff realized that, and executed their game plan accordingly. Sure the offensive line wasn’t great, but Payton Thorne showed he could scramble for first downs. A total of 19 penalties slowed down the pace of this game, but Mel Tucker kept his players in check. The running game opened up the passing game and vice-versa.
It’s not just the fact that Michigan State won this game, but it was the way they won it. The first half showed the makings of a grind it out, slug-fest. Instead, the Spartans put up 30 points and held their opponent to 3 scores or less for the third week in a row. After this win over Miami, MSU has made two things certain. Football in East Lansing is fun again and… Tuck comin’.